Falcons have three finalists for GM post

Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith stands the field before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/AP)
Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith stands the field before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Former Houston general manager Rick Smith, Rams director of college scouting Brady Holmes and Saints vice president/assistant general manager–pro personnel Terry Fontenot are the finalists for the Falcons’ vacant general manager’s position, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Falcons, who fired Thomas Dimitroff on Oct. 11, have interviewed five GM candidates.

In addition to Smith, Fontenot and Holmes, the Falcons interviewed director of college scouting Anthony Robinson and Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown.

The Falcons, per NFL rules, can’t hire Holmes or Fontenot until after each person’s team loses in the playoffs. Fontenot, who interviewed with the Jets last season, also had an interview with the Denver Broncos for their vacant GM position.

The Falcons’ GM search appears to be moving along faster than the coaching search. The team wants the new general manager and the new coach to work in a collaborative environment and possess a shared vision to land the franchise its first NFL championship.

“It’s OK to have different opinions about a variety of things,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Jan. 4, a day after the team finished 4-12. “That they listen to each other, respectfully. That they become good listeners, etcetera. But whatever they do, they need to do it with collaboration with each other. There needs to be great respect with each other. Great respect not only for each other, but with their staff, personnel and coaching to personnel.”

Smith is the most experienced of the finalists. He made a trade with then-Falcons general manager Rich McKay in 2007 to land quarterback Matt Schaub, who went on to guide the Texans through 2013.

“He does a great job,” Schaub said of Smith on Tuesday. “One thing I can say about Rick is that he did a really good job of identifying talent and the type of players.”

With Schaub, wide receiver Andre Johnson and undrafted running back Arian Foster, the Texans turned into AFC South champions.

“He worked really well in conjunction with Gary Kubiak, who was our head coach,” Schaub said. “Knowing the type of players, the style and how they would fit with what we were trying to do. Finding the best players to perform those roles.

“That’s key in today’s game. If you’ve identified on both sides of the football what you want to be? What your identity is going to be? Both in run and pass? Defensively? Up front? What scheme? Coverages? Finding players that do those things really good.

“There are a lot of really talented players, but they are built for certain systems. If you find yourself finding players that don’t really fit in those roles, then things can go sideways. I think Rick did a really good job of piecing our team together for staying power and also being able to fit our system.”

Former Falcons tight ends coach Chris Scelfo coached Fontenot while at Tulane.

“I tell you, I’m not surprised at all that he’s moved this fast,” Scelfo told the AJC. “Age is just a number in his case.”

Scelfo was an assistant head coach at Georgia from 1996-98 before becoming the head coach at Tulane from 1998-2006. Fontenot was a four-year letterman as a safety from 1999-2002.

“He was dependable,” Scelfo said. “He wasn’t a great player, but he did everything he could to be the player that he was. He worked at it. He worked in the offseason. He worked in the classroom. He worked off the field.”

Scelfo remembers that Fontenot had unwavering core values.

“He was brought up, raised the right way,” Scelfo said. “He’s a respect-and-dignity person. He does not get rattled. He will always keep his composure. That’s the way that he played.”

Fontenot has been with the Saints for 16 seasons. Over that time, the Saints have dominated the NFC South and have continually replenished their roster. Fontenot and the Saints have been successful in mining for players in alternative places such as the Canadian Football League.

That will be attractive to the Falcons, who’ll have salary-cap issues and must find additional talent from other rosters and leagues in addition to the draft.

Scelfo is not stunned that Fontenot is a general manager candidate.

“Well, I’m really not (surprised),” Scelfo said. “No. 1 is the training that he has had in the situation at New Orleans where he started, blossomed and that’s been a tremendous organization to learn from Mickey Loomis, watch Sean Payton up close and personal. Those guys have had a lot of success. For him to be a part of that, obviously this could give him a chance to branch out and kind of mimic the pattern that has been successful.”

Holmes works for former Falcons executive Les Snead, who is the Rams’ general manager. Holmes has been with the Rams for the past 18 seasons, starting in public relations and moving to scouting.

He worked his way up from low-level scouting positions to become the director of scouting in 2012. Holmes, who played at North Carolina A&T, resides in Atlanta in part because of its proximity to the top college talent in the SEC and ACC.

Dimitroff was New England’s director of scouting before the Falcons hired him in 2008.

THE FINALISTS

Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith stands the field before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/AP)
Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith stands the field before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Name: Rick Smith

Age: 50

Current role: No current role.

Background: He was the executive vice president of football operations for the Houston Texans from 2012-17. He was general manager from 2006-17.

When interviewed: Dec. 18 (Virtually)

Why he makes sense: He took over from Charlie Casserly and was responsible for all aspects of the football operation, including the salary cap, which is an issue with the Falcons moving forward. He was with the Denver when they won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. He played at Purdue, and he drafted potential future Hall of Famers J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins.

Why he doesn’t: His Texans teams were good, but not great. Houston didn’t draft a franchise quarterback during his tenure. They traded with the Falcons for Matt Schaub, and from 2013-17 didn’t have a good quarterback. Over 12 seasons, the Texans went to the playoffs just four times and never moved past the division round. Things got messy at the end in Houston between Smith and since-fired coach Bill O’Brien in a power struggle. The Falcons must investigate this issue.

Brad Holmes, the Los Angeles Rams' director of college scouting, has been with the organization for nearly two decades.
Brad Holmes, the Los Angeles Rams' director of college scouting, has been with the organization for nearly two decades.

Credit: Los Angeles Rams

Credit: Los Angeles Rams

Name: Brad Holmes

Age: 41

Current role: Rams director of college scouting

Background: Holmes just completed his eighth season as director of college scouting for the Rams, and 18th NFL season. In this role, Holmes oversees the college scouting department and manages all scheduling and operations for area scouts. He is responsible for assigning cross-check coverage nationwide during the fall season, in addition to evaluating all NFL draft prospects nationwide. His father, Mel Holmes, was a fifth-round draft choice from North Carolina A&T and played guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers (1971-73).

When interviewed: Jan. 5

Why he makes sense: The Rams went from the bottom to the top during his tenure. He had the vision to see that Aaron Donald was a star despite not having the height requirements of defensive tackles.

Why he doesn’t make sense: The Falcons are going to have poach off rosters for veteran talent. His lack of pro personnel experience may hurt his bid.

Saints executive Terry Fontenot in the running for Falcons vacant general manager position. (Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints)
Saints executive Terry Fontenot in the running for Falcons vacant general manager position. (Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints)

Name: Terry Fontenot

Age: 40

Current role: New Orleans Saints vice president/assistant general manager–pro personnel

Background: Under Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Fontenot, the Saints were able to build a tenacious defense to go with their veteran quarterback and offensive weapons. They have mixed in acquisitions through free agency (linebacker Demario Davis), trades (linebacker Kwon Alexander) and the draft (defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson and safety Malcolm Jenkins) to build the defense. Fontenot has been with the Saints for 16 seasons. He spent seven seasons as a pro scout before he was promoted. While he’s mostly been in pro personnel, he also assisted in the team’s draft preparations and weekly scouting of coming opponents. Fontenot played safety at Tulane (1999-2002) and was the team captain in 2001 and was the 2002 Hawaii Bowl team. He was coached by former Falcons tight ends coach Chris Scelfo, who was Tulane’s head coach from 1998-2006.

When interviewed: Jan. 6

Why he makes sense: The Saints have been doing something right in the talent department.

Why he doesn’t make sense: There is no obvious weakness in his background other than he hasn’t been a general manager before.

Falcons’ 2021 draft position

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston)

4. Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bow Tie Chronicles Podcasts:

For more content about the Atlanta Falcons

Follow me on Twitter @DorlandoAJC

On Facebook at Atlanta Falcons News Now

Atlanta Falcons coverage on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In Other News